Reach is a measurement of who exists to be engaged with at any given time. How many people are on your Facebook page. How many Twitter followers do you have? It is quantitative and does not translate very well into a qualitative model.
The reason it doesn’t is because reach and engagement are rarely if ever linked.
Engagement is a measure of the bi-directional interactions between you and another party or set of parties. It is a qualitative measurement, ideally based on a series of interactions over time specifically leading to a desired action.
Having low reach and high engagement leads to high ROI. You are building transactional value among a subset of users who choose to interact with you, your engagements educate you about your audience and allow you to engage more usefully.
Conversely, having high reach and low engagement leads to miniscule ROI. Your quantitative numbers may be high, but the quality (i.e. value) per user is low, and remains low. This means that you end up with a large number of apathetic respondents.
Of course the ideal is high reach, high engagement.
How do you get there?
Well, the first step is separating reach and engagement in your strategy and day-to-day discussions.
The next step is to put “reach” on the other side of the equals sign, and focus all your efforts on engagement.
The funny thing is that it turns out that having highly engaged users actually will go out of their way to build your reach for you.
Google’s logo today is Pac-man. It’s playable. You can go to www.google.com right now (assuming you’re reading this on 5/21) and play a custom developed HTML/CSS/JS version of Namco Bandai (our client)’s classic game Pac-Man based around the Google logo, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the game.
They didn’t send out a press release, there’s no blog announcement, nobody was interviewed for it, they just figured out a way to do something cool, and made it happen.
At the present moment, it’s trending on Twitter, and about 80% of the tweets today (in my feed at least) have been about “OMG Google’s logo is a playable pac-man!!!!”, from fans of all ages and followings.
Let’s put all the talk about social media and content strategy discussion aside. Here’s what it comes down to:
It’s not always the big flashy campaigns and press blitzes that create the most impact. Sometimes it’s just doing something cool for your people that they’re not expecting.
In this business, we talk a lot (I mean a lot about creating client delight, connecting with customers, being ‘authentic’ and ‘transparent’), but here’s a great example of a simple selfless and well-executed idea capturing peoples hearts and attention.
Some things to consider:
It’s quick and in-flow. Google did not build a separate page for this. Users did not have to do anything outside their normal behavior patterns with the site. They simply did what they do already (go to www.google.com) and the experience was there. They play for a little bit, and go on with their day.
There’s a minimal time commitment to interact. No “Go to pacman.google.com, use Facebook connect to log in, invite three friends and you can play a game!”. Just do what you were going to do anyway, play for a few minutes, go on with your day.
It’s easy to recommend to your network. The in-flowness also made the experience that much more shareable, because people know that their friends are going to Google anyway, so it was not “extra work” for people to experience the game once it was shared.
Users discovered for themselves. There’s no “PLAY THE INTERACTIVE PAC-MAN LOGO NOW!” star burst image. There was an element of ownership and discovery around the “hey, you can actually play this thing”
It’s timely and relevant. I didn’t know today was the 30th anniversary of PacMan. Now I do. So do you.
There’s no further ‘ask’ from them. User data jokes aside, Google didn’t ask you to re-tweet, they don’t want your email address, they don’t want you to buy a deluxe version of the game. It’s just out there because they thought they’d create something cool for today. They provided value selflessly (though ultimately what they’re getting back in visibility and publicity more than makes up for whatever dev time it took to build the game)
My job, technically, is developing social media strategy on behalf of our clients. I write a lot of ‘this is why social media is important for your business’-type documents. I work with some brilliant strategic thinkers.
Sometimes, though, I wonder: why are we, as digitally focused communicators all so obsessed with strategy? Why are we all so impressed with ourselves when we come up with a cool strategy for a campaign, for a candidate, for a cause. Why do we have conferences, organizations, entire channels dedicated to strategic thought?
All I can come up with at this very moment is the following: Strategy is easy. Execution is not.
Talk is cheap, actions are not.
I had two very different experiences at conferences these last two weeks. I was fortunate enough to be invited to go to the Clinton Foundation’s “Clinton Global Initiative University” conference in Miami. CGIU is an organization where college-age folks can make ‘commitments’ to amke a difference in the world in one of several different areas, and are empowered by the Clinton name, and get together once a year to network, build resources, and present. A coworker and I went around with a Flip Camera and interviewed students about what they’re doing. The answers were truly inspiring.
These 20-22 year olds were working to get schools built in starving nations, developing bike-share programs to cut down on greenhouse gasses, to getting legislation passed to address homeless needs. These millennials, who we are so quick to dismiss or try to box into our own limited ideals, are out there doing something that has a tangible positive affect on the health of the world. They aren’t spending their precious resources talking about engagement strategies, which video site to use to share the story, or ‘what facebook’s open platform means for oauth’. They’re just out there, looking at things that need fixing and fixing them.
In contrast (and I will keep the abuse to a minimum here), I went to the first day of Jeff Pulver‘s #140conf this past week. Now, Jeff has done a lot for the development of the web, and certainly has his heart in the right place with this conference, but the sheer amount of self-congratulatory “isn’t Twitter great, folks?” nonsense that permeated the tone of the panels and discussions was overwhelming enough that I could not bring myself to go back for day 2. Of course there were some great, inspiring conversations, but they were just that. Conversations.
The difference between these two experiences? One focused on strategy, and strategic discussions of tactics, and one was a demonstration of people doing the work.
In the end, all the ‘social media is important’ decks in the world won’t fix the problems in our society, even the ones we’re so intent on saying that communication and open dialogue will address.
So with all our hours of conversations about conversation, all our debates about where online communities are going, all our Tweets and Facebook status updates and blog posts, all our strategy and strategizing our action, what have we really done but talk. What have you done to change the world? Who would you place your bets on making a real sustainable difference in the health of the world?
This may be a controversial statement, but I believe it to be true:
The best digital communications strategy is to learn how to not strategize so much.
It connects us back to the ‘be authentically transparent’ concept, the ‘interact like humans’ concept, all the various statements that are so hard to quantify.
What I mean is, when we engage in communication with another person, be it for personal or professional reasons, and we are ‘in the moment’, responding naturally and genuinely and listening to what the other person is saying rather than just waiting to talk, conversations take on a natural flow and rhythm that we don’t even notice as something special other than “that was a nice conversation”.
Inversely, when we are always thinking of the ‘most appropriate’ way to respond, when we “don’t want to hurt someones feelings”, when we “think about” the “best thing to say” before we say it, we are up in our heads, making all kinds of assumptions about probable outcomes, filtering through a usually inaccurate and limiting sense of who we think we are as individuals, and viewing the world through an ‘us vs them’ filter.
This leads to unengaging and disconnected conversations, be it with a coworker, as a business or with a girlfriend. Even if people can’t quite put their finger on it, something feels off about the conversation, and they most likely wont remember it that fondly.
This is not our fault of course. We are trained in business school that ‘those people out there’ are a demographic to be targeted. We are trained by our own minds not to trust our instincts, no matter how much “go with your gut” lessons we learn. We want to be safe. We want to plan for every contingency.
The thing about contingency planning is that the element of spontaneity that drives memorable interactions gets lost, and people feel as if they’re being treated generically rather than personally.
So I urge you (and I say this as someone with Communications Strategist on my business card): Whenever possible, don’t strategize. Just do it.
In communications, there are those who think strategically and those who think tactically. At my job, we’ve even named our blog Thinkers and Doers to reflect both sides of the coin. Ideally, both sides inform the other. No tactic lives out there on its own (“We need to have a Twitter account because people are talking about twitter!”) without some kind of strategy (or valuable reason for existing behind it). In the same way, having a clever strategy without any specific toolsets identified can languish in ‘thought leadership land’.
Historically, many companies have focused on a ‘message’ as the core unit of visibility. “Just Do It” is a message. “Made From The Best Stuff On Earth” is a message.
Those are all well and good (and have had their time), but these days the opportunities for telling a story are vast. “Just Do It” may not have any meaning on its own (aside from “I know that, thats the Nike tagline”), but pair it with images of Michael Jordan dunking from the free throw line with room to spare, or Tiger Woods—well, maybe that’s a bad example. I would argue that its the story behind the message that has caused “Just Do It” to remain in the cultural lexicon.
The great thing for business is that the internet has opened up an almost infinite opportunity to tell stories to deepen the experience that a person has with a brand. Through the use of video, podcasts, blogs, conversations, and especially by empowering and encouraging those who are already on board to be a part of the storytelling process on behalf of your brand, you have the opportunity to build a story ecosystem for very little cost beyond earning the trust of your customers online through real interactions.
Just imagine the possibilities, of what you could do with that kind of evangelical content, coming from people with no financial stake, just out of love for some aspect of what you do. Just imagine what message that would send to people who could potentially be interested in your product, service, campaign, charity, country.